Use Chip Conley’s Emotional Equation chart on a daily basis to help identify your feelings and improve your overall mental health.
Okay, on a scale from one to 10 – with 10 being ‘amazing’ and one being ‘horrible’ – how are you feeling today? Where were you sitting yesterday on the scale? What about the week before? How about back in June?
Honestly, identifying your emotions is one of the most difficult things to do – and let’s be real, we hardly do it on a regular basis. Sure, we can tell others we’re feeling “fine”, “happy”, “good” or “stressed”, but what do these words even mean now that they’ve become so normalised?
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So, the real question is: how do you truly feel?
“Often our emotions are valuable in helping us to tune in with what is happening for us,” psychologist Briony Leo tells Body+Soul. “We might actually need to pay attention to feelings of anxiety, sadness or loneliness.”
Leo explains that digging deeper and identifying these real emotions is a crucial habit you should learn to incorporate into your daily routine.
“If our emotions aren’t acknowledged or expressed, they can manifest themselves in other ways such as physical pain and outbursts. Recognising our emotions doesn’t mean being overwhelmed by them; it’s more just paying attention to what they are telling us.”
Okay, how do you actually do this?
Well, this Emotional Equation chart created by author Chip Conley, is a great starting point. The chart looks at emotions as mathematical equations and offers explanations for how certain emotions are formed and created.
Conley explained how his equation works in an interview with Psychology Today.
“If you’re going through a period of suffering… it’s as though everything is going wrong, as though you’re in a downward spiral. When you’re in that place in life, suffering does feel like a constant,” he told the publication.
“If you believe in Buddhist philosophy and thinking, the first noble truth of Buddhism is that suffering is ever present. So think of suffering as the constant. Think of meaning as the variable. If you remember back to algebra, there is often a constant and a variable in an equation. If suffering remains the constant, then when you increase meaning (the variable) despair goes down.”
Therefore, “despair equals suffering minus meaning.”
How to use the Emotional Equation chart
Take this equation as an example:
8 = 10 – 2
Translating this to emotions becomes… Despair (8) = suffering (10) – meaning (2).
Therefore, if meaning goes up from 2 to 3, the despair goes down from 8 to 7.
“This equation [theory] may seem very familiar to people who are familiar with the course in miracles, or abundance theory or even the law of attraction,” Conley told Psychology Today. “The idea is that there are two primary motivators in life, and they get in a wrestling match every day. Love and fear. And here is the relationship between love and fear in an equation perspective: If you have love minus fear, you get joy.”
How often should you check in with your emotions?
Leo says it’s ideal to “always have some level of awareness about how we’re feeling”.
“A quick body scan can tell you if there are parts of your body that are tight or feel uncomfortable, and this is often connected with emotions,” she explains.
“It can be useful to see if you can connect a certain emotional state with a physical state (e.g. tightness in your stomach or chest might be anxiety, pressure in your temple might be feeling sad and feeling fatigued might be loneliness), so when you do a quick body scan you can notice what might be going on for you.”
Does the Emotional Equation chart work?
“The chart is just another way of looking at emotions and some of the things that contribute to them and raises our level of understanding about what this might look like,” Leo says. “It seems to give a good overview of some more complex emotions and encourages us to look closer at what creates them.”
While Leo says Conley’s Emotional Equation chart is “useful to some degree”, she notes “a lot of emotions are very subjective so what’s true for one person may not be true for another, so if some of these don’t work for you, you don’t need to take them as gospel.”
“However, I think it is useful to have guides like this to help us to be curious about certain emotions and try and understand our inner landscape a bit more. It can really help us tune in with our own emotions and understand what is happening for us under the surface.”
Briony Leo is an Australian psychologist, currently based in New York City, with specialist training in EMDR, Neurofeedback, Schema Therapy and ACT therapy. You can find her here.